In The Age Good Weekend magazine a few weeks ago, a male journalist/writer, David Leser, scribed about the “war zone” of gender relationships highlighting sexual complexity, conflict and confusion as paramount in his perspective of the #MeToo movement. More recently, two Senators, male and female, engaged in verbal abuse of a sexual nature in the Australian Parliament. The Greens female Senator apparently asserted “men should stop raping women”, while the Liberal Democrat libertarian male suggested she should then “stop shagging men!” Defamation litigation against him is proceeding for hurt caused, embarrassment and his attempt to shame her.
During my 68 years, the media here and in the UK where I lived and worked for seven years in the 1970s, frequently sensationalised various sexcapades of the indiscreet and unfaithful with predictable expressions of horror at the homicides that sometimes accompanied them. When these salacious sex scandals were not murderous in kind, the media mayhem was metaphorically destructive to the carnal culprit. Court cases involving huge compensation were common, so too slanderous shame of sluttish behaviours and the prostitution and porn purveyors of both men and women; albeit in opposite roles. Fast forward forty years and sex obviously still sells because it seemingly titillates the soporific suburbs otherwise devoid of sexual delight, especially deviance, particularly when focused on those of fame and fortune.
Sex may not quite be a weapon of mass destruction, but it clearly wreaks havoc when enclaves of domestic bliss are heaved apart by sexual misdemeanours and sinful dalliances, with or without mutual consent. The moral police, lurking outside every bedroom sight unseen, with their cameras and microphones disguised indoors to catch out victims of their own lust, orchestrate their conspiracy against any betrayal of sex that’s not enshrined in a loving and monogamous partnership. A hint of lasciviousness is lurched on as sexual sadism; a “war” crime against another human, usually a poor, helpless and powerless female who as an unsuspecting innocent of inappropriate advances, is perceived as a tragic victim. Spotlighting sex as a weapon sullies reputations, ruins careers and erodes economic independence, passing the perpetrator into private perdition.
Sex as a pernicious weapon is not a 21st century phenomenon. For centuries, societies’ sexual behaviour has symbolised the purity of their populace or contrarily a sordid turpitude, purporting to represent respect and responsibility for a civilised world. Many people thus surrender to sexual subservience and even suppress their desires, however unconsciously, as insurance for social approval. The alternative of flouting the sexual tenets of the established morality is proscribed by a fear that any defiance will be criminalised and castigated as sluttish, sinful and shameful. Indeed, human history has many narratives of this ilk, including the Salem witch trials and even The Old Testament. Sex as a weapon has been entrenched in supposedly civil societies since time immemorial.
Understanding why sex is both susceptible and successful as a powerful weapon of destruction demands appreciating the role of sex in society both religiously and morally with the two inextricably linked. But why it is so pervasively and consistently used to detonate and denigrate otherwise good people is of course difficult to disinter. This analysis is simply based on my own experience, reading and anecdotes from many others in many countries; gender, religion, race and diversity irrelevant.
Firstly, it is not just the physical violence of rape and sexual assault that can kill, maim and destroy, but more pertinently, the psychological impact of that violence that traumatises its victims according to many pundits. Undoubtedly, sex as a purely physical violation can destroy human life, particularly if the victim fights against it. Far more often however is that sex is ‘weaponised’ without any physical violence designed to more deviously disturb another’s emotional and psychological well-being however unconscious and unplanned. This behaviour, usually manifested by verbal sexual abuse is so endemic across all walks of life at work, at home and at play that I can only surmise it is far easier and intellectually less challenging to sling sexual slurs at someone rather than engage in smart and rational rhetoric to gain ascendancy in a “war of words”; be it in parliament, a field of sport, behind closed doors in suburbia, a media madhouse or any workplace among others.
It may not be rape of a physical kind but the underlying subterfuge of discrediting and dissembling your opponent that can have similar outcomes; people apparently nonetheless traumatised psychologically and shamed by the slander. Picking vulnerable and “soft” targets who for whatever reason are not as astute or skilful in standing up to a diatribe of disdain can collapse in the contempt expressed against them. Many people, men and women both, are highly sensitised to sexual abuse, particularly those in the LGBTIQ community while those who are heterosexual can fall prey to innuendo of sexual deviance by the moral police.
The cheap verbal sexual abuse engendered by disrespect for difference when it causes no harm to self or others reflects an inner self-loathing of the perpetrators unable to accept their own sexuality. They seem thwarted from a natural and healthy relationship with a consenting partner due to their personal perfidy about sex, criticising and condemning others as palliative protection for their disturbed psyches cleverly disguised by power, prestige and professionalism.
Frustration with self and fury at others seemingly enjoying pleasurable sex can ignite sparks of sexual abuse that resonate as moral integrity however warped and weak. Reality is that my reading of novels, non-fiction, plays, poetry, media articles and assorted other narratives about sex suggest developing a sanguine sense of self about sex seems impossible for many people facilitating its deployment as a weapon of destruction all too often. So many people, young and old, seem perennially “hung up” about it. Conflicts and confusion about who to have sex with, what sort of sex, how often, where to have it and just what’s “normal” has kept psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists and psychoanalysts in business for centuries.
In one perspective, it seems sex is perhaps the most complex conundrum in our world yet contrarily the potential for great pleasure derived from satisfying the intrinsic human need for sex should not be at all problematic. Depressingly, reality attests to the former far more than the latter as expressed in a letter in the Herald Sun on Wednesday, 11 July 2018, by a 50-year old woman, Wendy Brewer of Shepparton who wrote “in the past, men have used and abused women and were able to get away with it because women felt shame. Shame is a result of self-blame. Why would a woman blame herself for men in positions of power using them for their pleasure? The answer lies not in the characters of men but in the culture we all grew up in. For the first time in my life I feel I am being woken from unconsciousness. I am recognising that these things men did to me were wrong. And they were not my fault….”
Nearly 20 years her senior, I grew up in an even more proscriptive sexual landscape for young females but I never blamed myself or felt shame because of some males sexual abuse, physical and psychological too. I understood in my early 20s these men had THE problem, not me. I don’t understand why so many women who’ve spoken out in the #MeToo movement have felt shame, guilt and self-pity for a man’s sexual misconduct. The women’s perspectives postulate that sex is indeed a weapon for many men, be it to assert their power, superiority and status over women. It may be that this female perspective conveniently and comfortably deflects responsibility and respect from self because sadly these females have no self-respect or strong sense of self that could have, should have, allowed them to say “no” to the use or abuse they claim. It is an easy cop-out to always blame men.
At the same time, many women castigate other women over their sexual behaviour, similarly indulging in abuse though more commonly of the psychological kind. This has been true for me not just by female family members, but so called female friends over my life. It is scant written about as it is far more socially understood, however ignorantly and naively, to blame men for the sexual abuse of women; after all, women are “sisters” and need to stand together to overthrow the patriarchal conspiracy of sexism innate in this world. Women seem to thrive off colluding in this mythical fantasy manifested so lucidly in the #MeToo movement despite the mythology being just that; a delusional fantasy no more real or valid than many other conspiracy theories shadowing western history. Sex as a weapon, be it to intimidate, injure or inspire is omnipotent in the tapestry of the human condition.
No more so than when it is used by women not as a destructive missile, but as a means of beguiling and bewitching men with their firm breasts, slim hips, shapely legs and a beautiful face; hair and make-up perfected to garner the appeal and attention of suitable providers and genetically well-disposed fathers-to-be. While few men might actually forcibly power it over women in the boudoir, women covertly power it over men far more pervasively by ensuring their appearance is sexy, seductive and sensual. It is a weapon to be “used” rather than “abused”, though my semantics suggest the words can be interchangeable as these men are unaware of the abuse until their bank accounts and assets are spotlighted in court.
Certainly, I perused in women’s magazines more than 40 years ago how a woman should “flaunt” her physical, natural endowments. Why? Because men don’t, or won’t appreciate her brains or mind so as an antidote for their apathy to her intellectual acumen, she should use all her feminine wiles to win what she wants. Men it was asserted are easily blinded by an alluring, sexy woman. Indeed, I have personally experienced this with men ignoring me because of my appearance to then become interested because of my dramatic change in appearance. It is horrifying but true. Fortunately I realised how superficiality determined their perspective and walked away from them, using them in the short term for sex though that was seldom good enough for an encore.
Sadly many women do actually think, believe and live as if their destiny IS determined by their appearance without any understanding of their own intelligence and mental acuity. For these women, their sexuality is a weapon and it’s obvious across the media, online and in print, how female appearance aka their sex appeal, is of the utmost significance. Young women dominate because older women are regarded as unsexy.
Yet these women, and many younger women not so beautifully presented will use success at work as a weapon of attraction, albeit superficially. In reality, they are alluring to men easily deluded and deceived by the so-called superwoman, often victims themselves of these women who can be as destructive and denigrating as they can be. It is interesting that one of Australia’s most popular feminist writers, Kathy Lette, acclaimed internationally as a very successful scribe, married the prominent and prestigious lawyer, Geoffrey Robertson. On the surface, they epitomised the enviable couple with it all, yet I read recently their marriage ended in divorce. I can only ponder why it dissolved but divorce does imply aspects of destructive behaviour by one or both partners as I do believe it takes “two to tango”.
It may be that one partner is more obviously abusive and attacking, but the fact the other endures that abuse for many years reflects problems in their own psyche too. Arguments may be innate in relationships but abuse is not intrinsic to differences of opinion and beliefs. Abuse is a learned behaviour; acquired and developed often unconsciously to “win” what one wants and assert power and control over another. It can be of a sexual nature without physicality; a mental rape that uses sex, particularly sex that the perpetrators perceive as aberrant and abnormal, to demonise and destroy their prey. Carefully camouflaged as concern and care, it can be difficult to discern in a cover-up of deceit and dishonesty. Nonetheless, it is a powerful weapon however manifested. Reading between the lines of script delivered by the perpetrators demands insight, perception and intuition with a keen ear and eye vigilant to avoid being one of their victims.
Religious writings that ordained procreation as the raison d’etre for sex still permeates civilised societies however much it may be denied and disbelieved, at least superficially. The Pope and Catholic theology still adheres to this historic fundamentalism with most Christian believers, Jewish and Islamic ones too, cherishing children as politically correct outcomes for sexual liaisons. In this 21st century we may want to think this attitude is out-dated and irrelevant in our secular democracies but one only has to see the reality of suburban marriage or de facto unions to appreciate how profoundly ingrained this belief still is. Biological determinism might be argued as more pertinent but is one’s destiny so frivolously favoured by one’s chromosomes? Doesn’t free will get a look in at all? Is it all about what God’s predetermined so that individual choice is meaningless? Sex as a weapon to cohere mass conformity for the continuation of the human race still reigns sacrosanct over free will in most civilisations. Any deviation from that ancient religiosity invokes scorn and shame.
My conclusion is that any expectation that sex will cease to be shrouded as bellicose bastardry and a convenient weapon of destruction is naively misguided as human history is testimony to its longevity as a lascivious and lecherous lust aka a sin. That’s my last word on it, for the moment!